Stuever on a Roll

The thing is, most of the best writing today still happens in newspapers. And most of the good writing in newspapers still happens in the few big papers - NYT, WaPo, LATimes.

A great example of this is the work of Hank Stuever, who I think is really emerging as one of the finer chroniclers of the current zeitgeist. Yeah, yeah, shaddup.

In the last week, he's done two absolutely amazing articles - one on the inauguration itself, and one on the more general police-state that Washington, D.C. has become. From the latter:
Since Sept. 11, 2001, people who don't live here have asked you what it's like: What's it been like in Washington? With the recount? With the attacks? With the war? With the election? With the protests? What's it like in Washington?

Usually you could shrug, and answer: Washington is like it always was, which meant that it never got the best of you. But high security made the city ugly and that's what got the best of you. It made people ugly, too. It shunned dissent and, in the name of freedom, restricted freedom. Badges, tags, tickets, identification papers. You started referring to the city as a police state, ha-ha. You turned your back, made plans to leave. The safer it gets, the grayer it feels.

And the former:

...near the Willard hotel on 14th Street, whiffs of pepper spray and breathless reports of a flag-burning. This is at once horrible and deliriously exciting, and the kind of thing you'd pay good money to be in the middle of.

And something else happens out here on the inaugural streets, something that never quite translates on TV: It's not the shouting so much as it's the muttering. The way the patriots make jokes about the hippies, but only barely audibly. The way someone throws a snowball at a cowboy near 10th Street, and then won't own it. It's the weariness of the great American divide. The bored teenager forced to walk around with her dad and his giant dead-fetus poster; the peacenik nibbling glumly at her whole-grain bagel.

The streets of mutual disdain -- a 21st-century set piece. Over there, on the other side of the fence, you hear the parade announcer say something about one nation under God, but you'd swear it's much better out here, on this side of the fence, where things aren't quite so clear. The motorcade finally passes, or what you can see of it. The protesters turn their backs on Bush, but really it was about everybody turning his back on something, someone, some other American's unacceptable ideas.

I rode home on the Metro the night of January 19, which was both the one-year anniversary of the Iowa caucuses (and, yes, The Scream) and the eve of the inauguration. Which meant it was the night of the Black Tie and Boots Ball. Stetsons, smug smiles, and dead animal in many different way were de rigeur. One friend loudly verbally assaulted the Texas flag tie-and-cumberbund wearers, the women in unimaginable amounts of fur; another friend and I loudly discussed our childhood in Russia (appropriately accented, much to the amusement of at least the young woman sitting in front of us) and the not-really-manly American cowboy who came to visit; another friend puked right before our stop.

His reaction, really, was the correct one.

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